April 02, 2004

Letter to the Paper XIII

Fareed Zakaria notes that terrorists don't need states, and he's right. That's the heart of the need to remake the world system. Terrorists don't need states but any traditional response to terrorists does need a state. This is the best thing that Al Queda and the rest of the nihilistic death cultists have going for them. Unfortunately, Zakaria doesn't pursue the larger point, though I don't know whether he, himself, doesn't understand the problem of westphalian revisionism or such a subject is too big for a column. Below, the letter I wrote him:

When you say that people don't understand "this same error" that society sponsored terror is the dominant threat and that this error persists today, I think you make entirely too much light as to the nature of the problem. Society sponsored terror, and I agree you are correct in pointing to it as the problem, requires addressing, not states, but societies. Few have the scope of vision to understand exactly how far reaching the changes in our international system will have to be.

There has been an institutional bias growing to outright revulsion at this strategy dating back to 1648 and the Peace of Westphalia. The international system has to adjust to a post-westphalian reality that sovereignty, useful and even vital to maintaining peace for centuries, is now often in the way and we must adjust all the treaties and norms that assume it and require it. Institutions like the United Nations entirely structure their suffrage based on national sovereignty. States get votes, societies or nations do not. Treaty after treaty need to be reexamined. A new rule set must be forged to modify sovereignty so that we do not fix terrorism to find we have remade a world which can replay the Thirty Years War.

This possibility of breaking old fixes while hunting new enemies explains why President Bush has not laid out the theoretical boundaries of his post-westphalian revisionism. Prime Minister Blair, less prudently, has directly attacked the Westphalia system of national sovereignty but, also, has not provided a system to enable predictability in this proposed new international system.

So, until such limits to revisionism are hammered out and adopted, many who know better will politely whistle past the graveyard in public and pretend that nothing fundamental has changed. And those who are a bit less connected to our history will be confused and bewildered by seemingly irrational decision making all around. A public debate needs to start about this revisionism in order to clear the air of this polite pretending. We cannot escape it.

Posted by TMLutas at April 2, 2004 08:12 AM